Michael Joseph Gross at Vanity Fair:
Sarah Palin’s connection with her audience is complete. People who admire her believe she is just like them, and this conviction seems to satisfy their curiosity about the objective facts of her life. Those whose curiosity has not been satisfied have their work cut out for them. Palin has been a national figure for barely two years—John McCain selected her as his running mate in August 2008. Her on-the-record statements about herself amount to a litany of untruths and half-truths. With few exceptions—mostly Palin antagonists in journalism and politics whose beefs with her have long been out in the open—virtually no one who knows Palin well is willing to talk about her on the record, whether because they are loyal and want to protect her (a small and shrinking number), or because they expect her prominence to grow and intend to keep their options open, or because they fear she will exact revenge, as she has been known to do. It is an astonishing phenomenon. Colleagues and acquaintances by the hundreds went on the record to reveal what they knew, for good or ill, about prospective national candidates as diverse as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Al Gore, and Barack Obama. When it comes to Palin, people button their lips and slink away.
She manages to be at once a closed book and a constant noisemaker. Her press spokesperson, Pam Pryor, barely speaks to the press, and Palin shrewdly cultivates a real and rhetorical antagonism toward what she calls “the lamestream media.” The Palin machine is supported by organizations that do much of their business under the cover of pseudonyms and shell companies. In accordance with the terms of a reported $1 million annual contract with Fox News, Palin regularly delivers canned commentary on that network. But in the year since she abruptly resigned the governorship of Alaska, in order to market herself full-time—earning an estimated $13 million in the process—she has submitted to authentic, unpaid interviews with only a handful of journalists, none of whom have posed notably challenging questions. She keeps tight control of her pronouncements, speaking only in settings of her own choosing, with audiences of her own selection, and with reporters kept at bay. (Despite many requests, neither Palin nor her current staff would comment for this article.) She injects herself into the news almost every day, but on a strictly one-way basis, through a steady stream of messages on Twitter and Facebook. The press plays along. Palin is the only politician whose tweets are regularly reported as news by TV networks. She is the only one who has been able to significantly change the course of debate on a major national issue (health-care reform) with a single Facebook posting (in which she accused the Obama administration, falsely, of wanting to set up a “death panel”).
Palin makes speeches before large audiences at least a few times a week, on a grueling schedule that has taken her to as many as four locations in three states in one day. She’s choosy, restricting herself to Tea Party gatherings; fund-raisers for charities and Republican organizations and candidates; and moneymakers for herself, mainly business conventions and “Get Motivated!” seminars. Judging from the bootleg videos that sometimes turn up, her basic speech varies little from venue to venue. She presents herself as the straight-shooting, plainspoken, salt-of-the-earth advocate for “hardworking, patriotic, liberty-loving Americans” and as the anti-Obama, the lone Republican standing up to a federal government gone “out of control.” Last July, the quarterly filing by Palin’s political-action committee, SarahPAC, revealed a formidable war chest and hefty investments in fund-raising and direct mail, the clearest signs yet that she may indeed run for president. Republican leaders privately dismiss her as too unpredictable and too undisciplined to run a serious campaign. But on she flies, carpet-bombing the 24-hour news cycle: now announcing her desire to meet with her “political heroine” Margaret Thatcher (the better to look like Ronald Reagan, presumably, though Palin seemed unaware that Thatcher is suffering from dementia); now yelping in theatrical complaint (“I want my straws! I want ’em bent!”), to shrug off revelations that her speaking contract demands deluxe hotel rooms, first-class air travel, and bottles of water with bendable straws; now responding (in a statement read on the Today show) to reports of her daughter Bristol’s re-engagement to Levi Johnston; and all the while issuing scores of political endorsements and preparing a fall media blitz. A TV show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, for which Palin is being paid $2 million, will have its premiere on the TLC network in November. A new book, America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag, will be published the following week.
This spring and summer I traveled to Alaska and followed Palin’s road show through four midwestern states, speaking with whomever I could induce to talk under whatever conditions of anonymity they imposed—political strategists, longtime Palin friends and political associates, hotel staff, shopkeepers and hairstylists, and high-school friends of the Palin children. There’s a long and detailed version of what they had to say, but there’s also a short and simple one: anywhere you peel back the skin of Sarah Palin’s life, a sad and moldering strangeness lies beneath.
Ben Smith at Politico:
A former aide to the McCain campaign got in touch with me this morning to cop to being the half-serious progenitor of a story which, embellished almost beyond recognition, appears in Vanity Fair’s portrait today of Sarah Palin as monster.
Reports Vanity Fair:
Soon after her nomination, she brought up with McCain aides the subject of Bristol’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy by Levi Johnston: “Would it be good for the campaign if they got married before the election?” she asked, and went on to wonder whether one weekend or another would be more advantageous for media coverage.
This anecdote first popped up in London’s Sunday Times, a regular landing point for political anecdotes that the less credulous American press won’t print without checking. From that story:
Inside John McCain’s campaign the expectation is growing that there will be a popularity boosting pre-election wedding in Alaska between Bristol Palin, 17, and Levi Johnston, 18, her schoolmate and father of her baby. “It would be fantastic,” said a McCain insider. “You would have every TV camera there. The entire country would be watching. It would shut down the race for a week.”
The fantastic quote — and perhaps the clue that this one hadn’t quite risen to the levels of the principals — is the guarantee that Levi would show: ““It’s a shotgun wedding. She kills things,” the source joked.
Indeed, the former McCain aide (my source and the Times’s) recalls gleefully that while he kicked it around a bit with other aides — as the “end all, be all stunt for a campaign of stunts” — the idea was never brought to Palin, much less seriously considered.
The Vanity Fair story also focuses on Palin’s temper, which may well be a real quality but can’t be quite as out-of-control as its portrayed: It isn’t something the campaign staff — even the large number of them who derided her as lazy, undisciplined or unready — complained of.
One great anecdote that does ring true on the nearly open civil war at the end of the campaign:
When John McCain decided to pull out of Michigan, a decision Palin disagreed with, Recher and Palin hatched a plan one day to make an early-morning drive to Michigan anyway. The Secret Service, becoming aware of the plan, asked the McCain campaign what it should do. The answer came: “Shoot out the tires.”
But my takeaway from the magazine piece is more that you can really write anything about Palin.
David Weigel on Smith’s piece:
Smith explains that the quote came from a wild yarn in a UK Times story, passed on by a McCain campaign source, even though “the idea was never brought to Palin, much less seriously considered.” I can confirm that because I heard it from the same source, albeit after the campaign was over. It was, as I understand it, a goof, and it went to print because, basically, UK papers have more lax standards on what they print than American papers. Of course, it’s not like American papers have covered themselves in glory when “analyzing” Palin’s family based on rumors.
Point is, this anecdote is bunk, and it makes me wonder about the rest of the story.
Chris Good at The Atlantic:
Vanity Fair takes another whack at Sarah Palin, but the profile by Michael Joseph Gross seems to try not to read like, or be, a hit piece, even though almost everything in it about Palin is bad. It’s the third big piece Vanity Fair has published on the former governor, following Todd Purdum’s takedown entitled “It Came from Wasilla” (published last August) and Levi Johnston’s “Me and Mrs. Palin” (published the following month).Much of Gross’s story has to do with the people of Wasilla and how they see Palin, mostly as a newfound outsider of whom they live in perpetual fear, cautious to speak badly of her for fear of reprisal, kind of like the reported sentiments of Iraqis living in fear of Saddam after his government was toppled and he hid from U.S. forces in desert bunkers.Many things stand out, but two of them are the accounts of Palin’s seemingly bipolar temper and the use of front political groups to put on her speeches.
Rich Crowther at Conservatives4Palin:
Laughably, and here we see the true measure of Gross’ hackery, one person who is named in the article is someone called Sandra, whom Mr Gross feels able to quote despite never having met her.
Perhaps he ought to have been more thorough in that aspect, amongst others, for she is a person well known to the readers of C4P as the pseudonymous Sandrainoregon, or EclecticSandra, or SandraBuehler, or R2D2…… a retired, elderly, archetypal basement dwelling, pajama clad resident of Portman, Oregon, who, for reasons best known to herself, presumably, is devoting every day of her twilight years attempting to undermine Governor Palin by posting inflammatory and provocative comments at pro-Palin blogs.
She is known, for example, to be an active participant at the German blog Palingates, whose European contributors obsessively pursue abysmal conspiracies about Governor Palin, Todd Palin, Track Palin, Bristol Palin and Trig Palin.
Of course, readers will have noted that Mr Gross did interview one other anonymous person, a local Republican who delivered 90 minutes of praise for Palin… though not a word of that praise has been reported.